Subversion of Women in A Scandal in Bohemia

Subversion of Women in A Scandal in Bohemia

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Subversion of Women in A Scandal in Bohemia  

Doyle's "A Scandal in Bohemia" follows the story of the famous detective
Sherlock Holmes on his adventures to retrieve a damaging photograph. In
the society Watson describes, the apparent role of women is miniscule for
emphasis focuses on one woman who is the object of Holmes' detective
inquiries. In "A Scandal in Bohemia," society places women at a
subordinate level pushing them to the background therefore never allowing
us, the reader, to know them.
Watson describes women as second-class citizens at the start of the
story without directly saying so. When Watson says, "My own complete
happiness, and home-centered interests which rise up around the man who
first finds himself master of his own establishment were sufficient
enough to absorb all my attention," (212) he declares outright that he
wears the pants in the family, thus implying that his wife makes no
important family decisions. Since Watson is the "master" or ruler of his
own "establishment," he insinuates that the members of his family are his
servants not his equals. Watson's wife is a trivial character, clearly
evident because we never hear from her and never learn her name. On one
occasion, Watson spends the night at Watson's house on Baker Street
without once thinking to call his wife. Watson's behavior shows what
little respect he has for his wife. This blatant disregard for his wife's
feelings illustrates the insignificance of this woman.
The King of Bohemia displays another example of the lack of respect
given to women. His concerns do not center on his future wife becoming
aware of this affair but rather tarnishing his own image. The King fears
the revelation of this scandalous photograph for it lies on the hands of
a woman. His interests to dominate this woman are evident in the callous
actions the King directs towards Irene Adler. The King states, "Five
attempts have been made. Twice burglars in my pay ransacked her house.
Once we diverted her luggage when she traveled. Twice she has been
waylaid. There has been no result" (218). This disregard for Adler's
privacy questions the King's overall motives. Does he really want the
photograph or do his actions focus on hurting Irene Adler? The King wants
the upper hand on this beautiful, yet intelligent woman. The King's
attitude towards his future wife and his former lover, Irene Adler fits
into society's narrowly defined roles of women.
In this society, women were the nurtures and the protectors of the
children and what some deem as only monetarily valuable items. The female
instinct to nurture reflects in the personality of Irene Adler.

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acknowledges this nurturing instinct when he says, "but I know that I
never felt more heartily ashamed of myself when I saw the beautiful
creature against which I was conspiring, or the grace and kindliness with
which she waited upon the injured man" (225). This willingness to help is
a quality Watson, as well as other men in society, felt should be a
quality all women possessed. Women also serve as protectors of those
people or things, which cannot help themselves. Holmes explains to Watson
a woman's natural behavior upon encountering an obstacle by saying, "A
married woman grabs at her baby; an unmarried one reaches for her jewel
box" (226). This line implies that marriage and babies go hand in hand.
Was a woman only married to procreate? It seems Sherlock Holmes thought
so. He did not say an unmarried woman reaches for her child but she would
reach for a jewelry box, a material thing. The unmarried woman reaches
for a baby and not a jewelry box.
In a society in which women's roles were subordinate to men, Irene Adler
is the only woman in this story who actually has a personality. Her
character unfolds throughout the story. She serves as a significant
character because most of the plot centers on her. The King fears this
woman scorned will seek revenge and as a result tarnish his image. His
apprehension towards his marriage announcement is solely because of a
woman, whose independence scares him. Throughout the story, Sherlock
Holmes tremendously underestimates the intelligence of this woman. He
automatically assumes she will lead his directly to the photograph.
Rather than succumbing to the deceit of Sherlock Holmes, Irene Adler
outsmarts the clever detective using his own tricks.
The narrowly defined roles of women were evident for the only means to
discuss women in this story is through their relations with men. No
woman, not even Irene Adler, has her own story. After all in the end,
even Irene Adler runs away with a man. Out of the five female characters
mentioned or alluded to in this story, only one is given a name and
personality. This lack of female representation shows how dominant males
were in the society of the story and in the society of the real world.
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